How Should I Use Essential Oils
For the most part, essential oils are usually inhaled or used on the skin. They are sometimes consumed directly, but that is not recommended without expert supervision. Some oils can be toxic when ingested, or there could be unpredictable effects during the gastric process. There is also a greater possibility of drug interactions.
The application method, and how much the oil needs to be diluted, will depend on the oil itself and your particular purpose; for example, some oils are irritating to the skin and need more dilution, or they should be inhaled instead. Wound and skin-care often involves topical application, while oils are often inhaled for mood therapy. They are also sometimes added to bath water or used to make massage oils, beauty or home-care products, such as candles or deodorizers. Mainly, it is important to trust your own body and adjust things based on your own unique reactions.
Aromatherapy is generally safe for everyone, but there are some things that need a certain amount of consideration. Dosages need more dissolution or should be adjusted downward for children. Menthol and peppermint, in particular, have been connected to breathing and liver problems with some babies and children under seven.
The research on the effects of essential oils on pregnant women, and their unborn babies, is also very incomplete, as well as problems involving drug interactions. If you have particular concerns, it is always wise to consult a health-care provider. Always remember to store your oils safely, to avoid accidental ingestion by children and pets, which can actually be fatal for as little as a teaspoon.
Phototoxicity, where the skin becomes more sensitive to the sun and there is an increased possibility of getting a sunburn, is also something to be aware of. This most often occurs with citrus oils like lemon, lime and orange, but bergamot and angelica can have a similar effect. That might be something to keep in mind if you apply oils to your skin or use them in your bath water, as there can even be a risk of deep burns.
Skin irritation with certain kinds of oil is common, and it is possible to have an allergic reaction to the oil itself or because of cross-sensitivity; for example, if you are allergic to ragweed, you might react badly to chamomile essential oils because they are so similar.
Cheaper, or more poorly made oils, are sometimes diluted with synthetic chemicals and those can cause negative reactions too, that might not carry across to different brands. The age of the oil, and how it has been stored, also determines how safe or irritating it might be. That’s why where you get your oils can be so important.
If you take prescription medication or you have allergies, it is always a good idea to do a patch test before using a new essential oil to check for sensitivity or skin irritation. Mix a small amount of the oil at double the usual concentration with a carrier oil and apply it to a band-aid, so you can wear it next to your skin for 48 hours — then check for any irritation. You can repeat the test to check for allergic sensitivity and remember that allergic reactions can develop with later exposures, so if something feels different, repeat the test.
Aromatherapy usually involves some form of inhalation. Some oils like thyme, oregano, clove, and cinnamon bark can be irritating to the skin and might be better inhaled. Commercial diffusers are common and may involve mixing the oil with water or a carrier oil, like almond, apricot, grapeseed, jojoba, or olive oil. It’s important to follow the manufacturer’s instructions, as they will vary with different makes and models. Essential oils should never be burned directly, as this would drastically alter their chemical structure. You can, however, use them to make your own candles, as the oil is diluted by the wax or soy.
You can also use dry evaporation by applying the oil to a cotton ball or tissue and letting it evaporate naturally. With either inhalation method, you can easily adjust the dose by changing how close you are to the oil. An intense dose can also be received by sniffing it directly, or you can obtain a milder, more consistent application by just having it in the same room, near-by.
Steam inhalation of essential oils can provide a potent direct method. This is excellent for the inhalation of eucalyptus oils to treat coughs, as well as sinus and respiratory infections (except with children under the age of seven). Peppermint oil can be used the same way to treat fatigue or nausea. Mix 1–2 drops in a bowl of steaming water, and put a towel over both the bowl and your head, breath deeply, but be careful that it does not become too overwhelming, and shut your eyes, as it can be irritating to them as well.
A water-based room deodorizing spray can easily be made by adding 25 drops of essential oil to 16 ounces of water — just shake and spray. This can be a great way to set a particular mood; for example, lavender oil has the ability to encourage the release of serotonin, the so-called feel-good chemical. This can promote either relaxation or sleep.
Most oils require dilution with a carrier oil, usually of no greater than a 3–5 percent concentration, before they can be safely applied to the skin. Organic or cold-pressed vegetable or nut oils need to make up the rest. Oils like sweet almond oil, apricot kernel oil, grapeseed oil, jojoba oil, or avocado oil are best because they do not have much of a scent of their own — just remember to refrigerate anything left over to prevent it from going rancid. You can then apply it to your wrists and feet, or behind your ears.
If you plan to use the oil over larger areas, as you would for a massage, a 1 percent solution would be safest. These mixed oils can even be applied to a bandage or dressing; for example, lavender has antimicrobial properties and ginger can provide pain relief for stiff joints.
Essential oils are not water soluble, so they shouldn’t be added to the bath all by themselves, but you can make base of one part baking soda, two parts Epsom salts, and three parts sea salt. Add six drops of essential oil to two tablespoons of your base, and add it to your bath water to prevent it from just floating on top.
Featured image at top of post courtesy Kate Wares Via Flickr